MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes are best-of-breed snowshoes that are ideal for winter hiking and backpacking in mountainous terrain. They’re designed with a unique 360-degree traction system that allows you to walk up slopes or laterally across them without losing your grip. The Lightning Ascents were the first snowshoes to integrate serrated crampons directly into the snowshoe frame, in addition to more conventional crampon placements under the ball of the foot and the heel.
The Lightning Ascents revolutionized snowshoe design when the first came out about 10 years ago because they significantly improved the amount of traction that snowshoes could provide on icy trails and mountainsides. The serrated frame and lateral supports also prevented something called “snowballing” which occurs when snow and ice clump up in crampon teeth so it feels like your walking on top of bowling balls. This happens on any kind of toothed traction device, including microspikes, and the step-in or strap-on crampons that you attach to winter hiking and mountaineering boots. Since the horizontal rear crampons are not boxed crampons, but serrated horizontal struts built into the frame, snowballing can’t occur. It was ingenious.
The Lightning Ascents also come with Televators that help relieve calf fatigue when snowshoeing up hills. This was also a huge innovation when it was first introduced but is now a standard feature on all backcountry snowshoes designed for use in mountainous or hilly terrain. The Televator is a wire loop that can be flipped up under your heel when you are ascending a steep slope and locks into the tread of your boots so it won’t slip. It raises your heel so that you feel like you are walking on a level surface and prevents your calves from burning out on climbs. It also exerts direct pressure on the horizontal bar-shaped crampon under the snowshoe’s heel so you don’t slide backward and lose ground when climbing on hills.
Although using the Televator feels like you’re walking in high heels, you quickly adapt to it. It doesn’t feel wobbly or anything, because the downward force of your weight is distributed laterally across the snowshoe and not on a single tiny point. Plus, you have trekking poles for balance. When you’re done climbing, you can strike your pole handles against the Televators to fold them back down flush with the snowshoe decking.
Lightning Ascent Paragon Binding
The Paragon binding packs flat against the side or back of a backpack. The binding is a flexible net made with an elastic stretch material that distributes pressure evenly across the top of your boot and eliminates binding hot spots. The front corners of the binding prevent your foot from sliding too far forward, ensuring that the ball of your foot is positioned directly on top of the front crampon every time. That’s a great feature, especially for beginners, but pros like it too.
The two corner straps on the binding are held closed with plastic clips that are wider at the end than in the body, so they can’t slip through the clips. If you’re the only person using the snowshoe, you can fit the side binding straps to your boots, lock them in place, and never fuss with them again.
The Paragon’s mesh netting feels very natural and you don’t have to make it super tight to hold your foot in place. The
The Heel Strap
The heel strap on earlier Ascent snowshoes had problems and would frequently pop open. Some of us would duct tape it permanently shut to prevent this and just use the top straps to secure the snowshoe to our feet. While you can still technically do this with the Paragon binding, I’ve found that the heel strap stays reliably closed in the new binding and doesn’t pop open, in part because MSR provides a plastic clip to help hold it in place and prevent it from working itself loose.
The heel strap even stays secure when you break its plastic keeper clip, which I managed to do the first time I used the Paragon binding at the end of last winter. Regardless, the new Paragon reduces the amount of torsional flexing of the heel strap enough so that it will stay closed even if you bust or lose the clip. (A binder clip makes a good substitute.)
Comparable Winter Hiking Snowshoes
|Make / Model||Heel Bar||Binding|
|MSR Lightning Ascent||Yes||Mesh Net|
|Atlas Helium MTN||Yes||Boa|
|Tubbs Flex ALP||Yes||Ratchet Strap|
|TSL Symbioz Elite||Yes||Ratchet Strap|
|MSR Evo Ascent||Yes||Plastic Straps|
|Tubbs Mountaineers||Yes||Ratchet Strap|
|Atlas Montane||Yes||Webbing Strap|
|MSR Revo Explore||Yes||Ratchet Strap|
|Northern Lites Backcountry||No||Plastic Straps|
|Crescent Backcountry||Yes||Webbing Strap|
I’ve used MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes for trail breaking and on packed trails with the new Paragon binding and they are better than ever. The new binding is simpler to adjust and stays reliably closed even in the toughest conditions. It’s very comfortable, eliminates the hot spots of the previous model, and is designed to provide optimal foot placement over the front crampon for maximum stride efficiency and traction.
Once fitted to your winter boots, you really never have to fuss with the binding again and you’ll experience the same perfect fit every time…which is a big improvement on the older model. I was leery when MSR originally announced changes to the Lightning Ascent Snowshoe because I feared that they’d diminish its legacy as a breakthrough product, but I needn’t have worried. MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes with the new Paragon Binding are better than ever.
Disclosure: MSR provided the author with a pair of snowshoes for this review.
Updated December 2022.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.